A Horse Called Farmer

View of the stunning beaches and red cliffs of Entry Island
View of the stunning beaches and red cliffs of Entry Island. Photo courtesy D Fiset/tourisme iles de madeleine.

Here’s an amazing true story about a horse named Farmer who swam the ocean to return to Entry Island where he was born and raised.

A small isle in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, Entry Island features red cliffs that plunge into the sea, green rolling hills and rocky shores. An English-speaking island, it’s part of an archipelago of about 12 islands and islets that make up the Magdalen Islands in Quebec. Here, the pace is slow, the ambience peaceful. The fishermen here, mostly of Scottish and Irish descent, lay traps for lobster.

Back in 1923, an ice bridge frequently formed between Entry Island and Ile du Havre Aubert, where Farmer, a Clydesdale-cross, would often pull a sleigh, a distance of about two miles. One winter, after crossing over to Havre Aubert from Entry, Farmer’s owner sold him to a resident of Grosse Ile. (Ile du Havre Aubert and Grosse Ile are both part of the Magdalen archipelago.)

The next spring, still feeling homesick for Entry Island, Farmer escaped through a gate that had been left open and made his way 60 miles over the narrow sandy dunes that connect four Magdalen islands. While on his desperate quest, people noticed Farmer sniffing the air and gazing across the ocean in the direction of Entry Island.

Once on Havre Aubert, he made his way to Sandy Hook dune to the exact spot where the ice bridge, the winter before, had linked it to Entry Island. Here, Farmer could clearly see and smell his home. He plunged into the sea, fighting wind and waves, to valiantly swim the two miles across the deep, cold channel towards the sound of the familiar foghorn. The tough little horse made it to shore and returned to his original home. Farmer lived out the rest of his days on Entry Island.

map of the Magdalen Islands courtesy P. John Burden and Dr. Peter E. Cumming.
map of the Magdalen Islands courtesy P. John Burden and Dr. Peter E. Cumming.

Like Farmer, the people who today live on Entry Island have a strong attachment to their island home, a bond that’s compelling for both young and old alike. Middle-aged and older residents often describe their island as “paradise” or “the closest thing to heaven.”

If you hanker for out-of-the-way places, this unique, scenic island with its rich history and friendly islanders offers respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Its dramatic scenery and natural beauty weave a photographer’s dream. Its fields and hills, particularly Big Hill, at 174 metres (the highest hill in the archipelago) offer wonderful opportunities for hiking.

Peter Cumming captured the story about Farmer in a children’s book entitled A Horse Called Farmer, Ragweed Press, 1984. (Out of print, but available through online used book sellers.) The late Stompin’ Tom Connors also wrote a song called A Horse Called Farmer.

A daily ferry service (and Zodiac during the summer) operates to Entry Island from Cap-aux-Meules port. Entry Island has one restaurant; Chambres Josey rents rooms and houses. For more info click here.